Statira worked in the box-factory now; she liked it a great deal better than the store, and declared that she was ever so much stronger. The cough lingered still, but none of them noticed it much; she called it a cold, and said she kept catching more. 'Manda Grier told her that she could throw it off soon enough if she would buy a few clothes for warmth and not so many for looks; but they did not talk this over before Lemuel. Before he came Statira took a soothing mixture that she got of the apothecary, and then they were all as bright and gay as could be, and she looked so pretty that he said he could not get used to it. The housekeeping experiment was a great success; she and 'Manda Grier had two rooms now, and they lived better than ever they had, for less money. Of course, Statira said, it was not up to the St. Albans, which Lemuel had told them of at first a little braggingly. In fact she liked to have him brag of it, and of the splendours of his position and surroundings. She was very curious, but not envious of anything, and it became a joke with her and 'Manda Grier, who pretended to despise the whole affair.
At first it flattered Lemuel to have her admire his rise in life so simply and ardently; but after a while it became embarrassing, in proportion as it no longer seemed so superb to him. She was always wanting him to talk of it; after a few Sundays, with the long hours they had passed in telling each other all they could think of about themselves, they had not much else to talk of. Now that she had him to employ her fancy, Statira no longer fed it on the novels she used to devour. He brought her books, but she did not read them; she said that she had been so busy with her sewing she had no time to read; and every week she showed him some pretty new thing she had been making, and tried it on for him to see how she looked in it. Often she seemed to care more to rest with her head on his shoulder, and not talk at all; and for a while this was enough for him too, though sometimes he was disappointed that she did not even let him read to her out of the books she neglected. She would not talk over the sermons they heard together; but once when Mr. Evans offered him tickets for the theatre, and Lemuel had got the night off and taken Statira, it seemed as if she would be willing to sit up till morning and talk the play over.
Nothing else ever interested her so much, except what one of the girls in the box-factory had told her about going down to the beach, summers, and waiting on table. This girl had been at Old Orchard, where they had splendid times, with one veranda all to themselves and the gentlemen-help; and in the afternoon the girls got together on the beach—or the grass right in front of the hotel—and sewed. They got nearly as much as they did in the box-factory; and then the boarders all gave you something extra; some of them gave as much as a dollar a week apiece. The head-waiter was a college student, and a perfect gentleman; he was always dressed up in a dress-suit and a white silk neck-tie. Statira said that next summer she wanted they should go off somewhere, she and 'Manda Grier, and wait on table together; and she knew Lemuel could easily get the head-waiter's place, after the St. Albans. She should not want he should be clerk, because then they could not have such good times, for they would be more separated.
Lemuel heard her restively through, and then broke out fiercely and told her that he had seen enough of waiting on table at the St. Albans for him never to want her to do it; and that the boarders who gave money to the waiters despised them for taking it. He said that he did not consider just helping Mrs. Harmon out the same as being head-waiter, and that he would not be a regular waiter for any money: he would rather starve.
Statira did not understand; she asked him meekly if he were mad at her, he seemed so; and he had to do what he could to cheer her up.
'Manda Grier took Statira's part pretty sharply. She said it was one thing to live out in a private family—that was a disgrace, if you could keep the breath of life in you any other way—and it was quite another to wait in an hotel; and she did not want to have any one hint round that she would let Statira demean herself. Lemuel was offended by her manner, and her assumption of owning Statira. She defended him, but he could not tell her how he had changed; the influences were perhaps too obscure for him to have traced them all himself; after the first time he had hardly mentioned the art- student girls to her. There were a great many things that Statira could not understand. She had been much longer in the city than Lemuel, but she did not seem to appreciate the difference between that and the country. She dressed very stylishly; no one went beyond her in that; but in many things he could see that she remained countrified. Once on a very mild April evening, when they were passing through the Public Garden, she wished him to sit on a vacant seat they came to. All the others were occupied by young couples who sat with their arms around each other.
"No, no!" shuddered Lemuel, "I don't want people should take you for one of these servant-girls."
"Why, Lem, how proud you're getting!" she cried with easy acquiescence. "You're awfully stuck up! Well, then, you've got to take a horse-car; I can't walk any further."
Lemuel had found out about the art-students from Berry. He said they were no relation to each other, and had not even been acquainted before they met at the art-school; he had first met them at the St. Albans. Miss Swan was from the western part of the State, and Miss Carver from down Plymouth way. The latter took pupils, and sometimes gave lessons at their houses; she was, to Berry's thinking, not half the genius and not half the duck that Miss Swan was, though she was a duck in her way too. Miss Swan, as nearly as he could explain, was studying art for the fun of it, or the excitement, for she was well enough off; her father was a lawyer out there, and Berry believed that a rising son-in-law in his own profession would be just the thing for the old man's declining years. He said he should not be very particular about settling down to practice at once; if his wife wanted to go to Europe a while, and kind of tender foot it round for a year or two in the art-centres over there, he would let the old man run the business a little longer; sometimes it did an old man good. There was no hurry; Berry's own father was not excited about his going to work right away; he had the money to run Berry and a wife too, if it came to that; Miss Swan understood that. He had not told her so in just so many words, but he had let her know that Alonzo W. Berry, senior, was not borrowing money at two per cent. a month any more. He said he did not care to make much of a blow about that part of it till he was ready to act, and he was not going to act till he had a dead-sure thing of it; he was having a very good time as it went along, and he guessed Miss Swan was too; no use to hurry a girl, when she was on the right track.
Berry invented these axioms apparently to put himself in heart; in the abstract he was already courageous enough. He said that these Eastern girls were not used to having any sort of attention; that there was only about a tenth or fifteenth of a fellow to every girl, and that it tickled one of them to death to have a whole man around. He was not meanly exultant at their destitution. He said he just wished one of these pretty Boston girls—nice, well dressed, cultured, and brought up to be snubbed and neglected by the tenths and fifteenths of men they had at home—could be let loose in the West, and have a regular round-up of fellows. Or, no, he would like to have about five thousand fellows from out there, that never expected a woman to look at them, unloaded in Boston, and see them open their eyes. "Wouldn't one of 'em get home alive, if kindness could kill 'em. I never saw such a place! I can't get used to it! It makes me tired. Any sort of fellow could get married in Boston!"
Berry made no attempt to reconcile his uncertainty as to his own chances with this general theory, but he urged it to prove that Miss Swan and Miss Carver would like to have Lemuel call; he said they had both said they wished they could paint him. He had himself sustained various characters in costume for them, and one night he pretended that they had sent him down for Lemuel to help out with a certain group. But they received him with a sort of blankness which convinced him that Berry had exceeded his authority; there was a helplessness at first, and then an indignant determination to save him from a false position even at their own cost, which Lemuel felt rather than saw. Miss Carver was foremost in his rescue; she devoted herself to this, and left Miss Swan to punish Berry, who conveyed from time to time his sense that he was "getting it," by a wink to Lemuel.
An observer with more social light might have been more puzzled to account for Berry's toleration by these girls, who apparently associated with him on equal terms. Since he was not a servant, he was their equal in Lemuel's eyes; perhaps his acceptance might otherwise be explained by the fact that he was very amusing, chivalrously harmless, and extremely kind-hearted and useful to them. One must not leave out of the reckoning his open devotion for Miss Swan, which in itself would do much to approve him to her, and commend him to Miss Carver, if she were a generous girl, and very fond of her friend. It is certain that they did tolerate Berry, who made them laugh even that night in spite of themselves, till Miss Swan said, "Well, what's the use?" and stopped trying to discipline him. After that they had a very sociable evening, though Lemuel kept his distance, and would not let them include him, knowing what the two girls really thought of him. He would not take part in Berry's buffooneries, but talked soberly and rather austerely with Miss Carver; and to show that he did not feel himself an inferior, whatever she might think, he was very sarcastic about some of the city ways and customs they spoke of. There were a good many books about—novels mostly, but not the kind Statira used to read, and poems; Miss Carver said she liked to take them up when she was nervous from her work; and if the weather was bad, and she could not get out for a walk, a book seemed to do her almost as much good. Nearly all the pictures about in the room seemed to be Miss Swan's; in fact, when Lemuel asked about them, and tried to praise them in such a way as not to show his ignorance, Miss Carver said she did very little in colour; her lessons were all in black and white. He would not let her see that he did not know what this was, but he was ashamed, and he determined to find out; he determined to get a drawing-book, and learn something about it himself. To his thinking, the room was pretty harum-scarum. There were shawls hung upon the walls, and rugs, and pieces of cloth, which sometimes had half- finished paintings fastened to them; there were paintings standing round the room on the floor, sometimes right side out, and sometimes faced to the walls; there were two or three fleeces and fox-pelts scattered about instead of a carpet; and there were two easels, and stands with paints all twisted up in lead tubes on them. He compared the room with Statira's, and did not think much of it at first.
Afterwards it did not seem so bad: he began to feel its picturesqueness, for he went there again, and let the girls sketch him. When Miss Swan asked him that night if he would let them he wished to refuse; but she seemed so modest about it, and made it such a great favour on his part, that he consented; she said she merely wished to make a little sketch in colour, and Miss Carver a little study of his head in black and white; and he imagined it a trifling affair that could be despatched in a single night. They decided to treat his head as a Young Roman head; and at the end of a long sitting, beguiled with talk and with thoughtful voluntaries from Berry on his banjo, he found that Miss Carver had rubbed her study nearly all out with a piece of bread, and Miss Swan said she should want to try a perfectly new sketch with the shoulders draped; the coat had confused her; she would not let any one see what she had done, though Berry tried to make her let him.
Lemuel looked a little blank when she asked him for another sitting; but Berry said, "Oh, you'll have to come, Barker. Penalty of greatness, you know. Have you in Williams & Everett's window; notices in all the papers. 'The exquisite studies, by Miss Swan and Miss Carver, of the head of the gentlemanly and accommodating clerk of the St. Albans, as a Roman Youth.' Chromoed as a Christmas card by Prang, and photograph copies everywhere. You're all right, Barker."
One night Miss Swan said, in rapture with some momentary success, "Oh, I'm perfectly in love with this head!"
Berry looked up from his banjo, which he ceased to strum. "Hello, hello, hel-lo!"
Then the two broke into a laugh, in which Lemuel helplessly joined.
"What—what is it?" asked Miss Carver, looking up absently from her work.
"Nothing; just a little outburst of passion from our young friend here," said Berry, nodding his head toward Miss Swan.
"What does it mean, Mad?" asked Miss Carver in the same dreamy way, continuing her work.
"Yes, Madeline," said Berry, "explain yourself."
"Mr. Berry!" cried Miss Swan warningly.
"That's me; Alonzo W., Jr. Go on!"
"You forget yourself," said the girl, with imperfect severity.
"Well, you forgot me first," said Berry, with affected injury. "Ain't it hard enough to sit here night after night, strumming on the old banjo, while another fellow is going down to posterity as a Roman Youth with a red shawl round his neck, without having to hear people say they're in love with that head of his?"
Miss Carver now stopped her work, and looked from her friend, with her head bowed in laughter on the back of her hand, to that of Berry bent in burlesque reproach upon her, and then at Lemuel, who was trying to control himself.
"But I can tell you what, Miss Swan; you spoke too late, as the man said when he swallowed the chicken in the fresh egg. Mr. Barker has a previous engagement. That so, Barker?"
Lemuel turned fire-red, and looked round at Miss Carver, who met his glance with her clear gaze. She turned presently to make some comment on Miss Swan's sketch, and then, after working a little while longer, she said she was tired, and was going to make some tea.
The girls both pressed Lemuel to stay for a cup, but he would not; and Berry followed him downstairs to explain and apologise.
"It's all right," said Lemuel. "What difference would it make to them whether I was engaged or not?"
"Well, I suppose as a general rule a girl would rather a fellow wasn't," philosophised Berry. He whistled ruefully, and Lemuel drawing a book toward him in continued silence, he rose from the seat he had taken on the desk in the little office, and said, "Well, I guess it'll all come out right. Come to think of it, I don't know anything about your affairs, and I can tell 'em so."
"Oh, it don't matter."
He had pulled the book toward him as if he were going to read, but he could not read; his head was in a whirl. After a first frenzy of resentment against Berry, he was now angry at himself for having been so embarrassed. He thought of a retort that would have passed it all off lightly; then he reflected again that it was of no consequence to these young ladies whether he was engaged or not, and at any rate it was nobody's business but his own. Of course he was engaged to Statira, but he had hardly thought of it in that way. 'Manda Grier had joked about the time when she supposed she should have to keep old maid's hall alone; when she first did this Lemuel thought it delightful, but afterwards he did not like it so much; it began to annoy him that 'Manda Grier should mix herself up so much with Statira and himself. He believed that Statira would be different, would be more like other ladies (he generalised it in this way, but he meant Miss Swan and Miss Carver), if she had not 'Manda Grier there all the time to keep her back. He convinced himself that if it were not for 'Manda Grier, he should have had no trouble in telling Statira that the art-students were sketching him; and that he had not done so yet because he hated to have 'Manda ask her so much about them, and call them that Swan girl and that Carver girl, as she would be sure to do, and clip away the whole evening with her questions and her guesses. It was now nearly a fortnight since the sketching began, and he had let one Sunday night pass without mentioning it. He could not let another pass, and he knew 'Manda Grier would say they were a good while about it, and would show her ignorance, and put Statira up to asking all sorts of things. He could not bear to think of it, and he let the next Sunday night pass without saying anything to Statira. The sittings continued; but before the third Sunday came Miss Swan said she did not see how she could do anything more to her sketch, and Miss Carver had already completed her study. They criticised each other's work with freedom and good humour, and agreed that the next thing was to paint it out and rub it out.
"No," said Berry; "what you want is a fresh eye on it. I've worried over it as much as you have,—suffered more, I believe,—and Barker can't tell whether he looks like a Roman Youth or not. Why don't you have up old Evans?"
Miss Swan took no apparent notice of this suggestion; and Miss Carver, who left Berry's snubbing entirely to her, said nothing. After a minute's study of the pictures, Miss Swan suggested, "If Mr. Barker had any friends he would like to show them to?"
"Oh no, thank you," returned Lemuel hastily, "there isn't anybody," and again he found himself turning very red.
"Well, I don't know how we can thank you enough for your patience, Mr. Barker," said the girl.
"Oh, don't mention it. I've—I've enjoyed it," said Lemuel.
"Game—every time," said Berry; and their evening broke up with a laugh.
The next morning Lemuel stopped Miss Swan at the door of the breakfast room, and said, "I've been thinking over what you said last night, and I should like to bring some one—a lady friend of mine—to see the pictures."
"Why, certainly, Mr. Barker. Any time. Some evening?" she suggested.
"Should you mind it if I came to-morrow night?" he asked; and he thought it right to remind her, "it's Sunday night."
"Oh, not at all! To-morrow night, by all means! We shall both be at home, and very glad to see you." She hurried after Miss Carver, loitering on her way to their table, and Lemuel saw them put their heads together, as if they were whispering. He knew they were whispering about him, but they did not laugh; probably they kept themselves from laughing. In coming out from breakfast, Miss Swan said, "I hope your friend isn't very critical, Mr. Barker?" and he answered confusedly, "Oh, not at all, thank you." But he said to himself that he did not care whether she was trying to make fun of him or not, he knew what he had made up his mind to do.
Statira did not seem to care much about going to see the pictures, when he proposed it to her the next evening. She asked why he had been keeping it such a great secret, and he could not pretend, as he had once thought he could, that he was keeping it as a surprise for her. "Should you like to see 'em, 'Manda?" she asked, with languid indifference.
"I d' know as I care much about Lem's picture, s'long's we've got him around," 'Manda Grier whipped out, "but I should like t' see those celebrated girls 't we've heard s' much about."
"Well," said Statira carelessly, and they went into the next room to put on their wraps. Lemuel, vexed to have 'Manda Grier made one of the party, and helpless to prevent her going, walked up and down, wondering what he should say when he arrived with this unexpected guest.
But Miss Swan received both of the girls very politely, and chatted with 'Manda Grier, whose conversation, in defiance of any sense of superiority that the Swan girl or the Carver girl might feel, was a succession of laconic snaps, sometimes witty, but mostly rude and contradictory.
Miss Carver made tea, and served it in some pretty cups which Lemuel hoped Statira might admire, but she took it without noticing, and in talking with Miss Carver she drawled, and said "N-y-e-e-e-s," and "I don't know as I d-o-o-o," and "Well, I should think as mu-u-ch," with a prolongation of all the final syllables in her sentences which he had not observed in her before, and which she must have borrowed for the occasion for the gentility of the effect. She tried to refer everything to him, and she and 'Manda Grier talked together as much as they could, and when the others spoke of him as Mr. Barker, they called him Lem. They did not look at anything, or do anything to betray that they found the studio, on which Lemuel had once expatiated to them, different from other rooms.
At last Miss Swan abruptly brought out the studies of Lemuel's head, and put them in a good light; 'Manda Grier and Statira got into the wrong place to see them.
'Manda blurted out, "Well, he looks 's if he'd had a fit of sickness in that one;" and perhaps, in fact, Miss Carver had refined too much upon a delicate ideal of Lemuel's looks.
"So he d-o-o-es!" drawled Statira. "And how funny he looks with that red thing o-o-o-n!"
Miss Swan explained that she had thrown that in for the colour, and that they had been fancying him in the character of a young Roman.
"You think he's got a Roman n-o-o-se?" asked Statira through her own.
"I think Lem's got a kind of a pug, m'self," said 'Manda Grier.
"Well, 'Manda Grier!" said Statira.
Lemuel could not look at Miss Carver, whom he knew to be gazing at the two girls from the little distance to which she had withdrawn; Miss Swan was biting her lip.
"So that's the celebrated St. Albans, is it?" said 'Manda Grier, when they got in the street. "Don't know 's I really ever expected to see the inside 'f it. You notice the kind of oilcloth they had on that upper entry, S'tira?"
They did not mention Lemuel's pictures, or the artists; and he scarcely spoke on the way home.
When they parted, Statira broke out crying, and would not let him kiss her.
"I'm afraid your little friend at the St. Albans isn't altogether happy of late," said Evans toward the end of what he called one of his powwows with Sewell. Their talk had taken a vaster range than usual, and they both felt the need, that people know in dealing with abstractions, of finally getting the ground beneath their feet again.
"Ah?" asked Sewell, with a twinge that allayed his satisfaction in this. "What's the matter with him?"
"Oh, the knowledge of good and evil, I suspect."
"I hope there's nothing wrong," said Sewell anxiously.
"Oh no. I used the phrase because it came easily. Just what I mean is that I'm afraid his view of our social inequalities is widening and deepening, and that he experiences the dissatisfaction of people who don't command that prospect from the summit. I told you of his censure of our aristocratic constitution?"
"Yes," said Sewell, with a smile.
"Well, I'm afraid he feels it more and more. If I can judge from the occasional distance and hauteur with which he treats me, he is humiliated by it. Nothing makes a man so proud as humiliation, you know."
"There are a couple of pretty girls at the St. Albans, art-students, who have been painting Barker. So I learn from a reformed cow-boy of the plains who is with us as a law-student and is about with one of the young ladies a good deal. They're rather nice girls; quite nice, in fact; and there's no harm in the cow-boy, and a good deal of fun. But if Barker had conceived of being painted as a social inferior, and had been made to feel that he was merely a model; and if he had become at all aware that one of the girls was rather pretty—they both are—"
"I don't say it's so. But he seems low-spirited. Why don't you come round and cheer him up—get into his confidence—"
"Get into the centre of the earth!" cried Sewell. "I never saw such an inapproachable creature!"
Evans laughed. "He is rather remote. The genuine American youth is apt to be so, especially if he thinks you mean him a kindness. But there ought to be some way of convincing him that he need not feel any ignominy in his employment. After so many centuries of Christianity and generations of Democracy, it ought to be very simple to convince him that there is nothing disgraceful in showing people to their places at table."
"It isn't," said the minister soberly.
"No, it isn't," said Evans. "I wonder," he added thoughtfully, "why we despise certain occupations? We don't despise a man who hammers stone or saws boards; why should we despise a barber? Is the care of the human head intrinsically less honourable than the shaping of such rude material? Why do we still condemn the tailor who clothes us, and honour the painter who portrays us in the same clothes? Why do we despise waiters? I tried to make Barker believe that I respected all kinds of honest work. But I lied; I despised him for having waited on table. Why have all manner of domestics fallen under our scorn, and come to be stigmatised in a lump as servants?"
"Ah, I don't know," said the minister. "There is something in personal attendance upon us that dishonours; but the reasons of it are very obscure; I couldn't give them. Perhaps it's because it's work that in a simpler state of things each of us would do for himself, and in this state is too proud to do."
"That doesn't cover the whole ground," said Evans.
"And you think that poor boy is troubled—is really suffering from a sense of inferiority to the other young people?"
"Oh, I don't say certainly. Perhaps not. But if he were, what should you say was the best thing for him to do? Remain a servant; cast his lot with these outcasts; or try to separate and distinguish himself from them, as we all do? Come; we live in the world,—which isn't so bad, though it's pretty stupid. He couldn't change it. Now, what ought he to do?"
Sewell mused a while without answering anything. Then he said with a smile, "It's very much simpler to fit people for the other world than for this, don't you think?"
"Yes, it is. It was a cold day for the clergy when it was imagined that they ought to do both."
"Well," said Sewell, rising to follow his friend to the door, "I will come to see Barker, and try to talk with him. He's a very complicated problem. I supposed that I had merely his material prosperity to provide for, after getting him down here, but if I have to reconcile him to the constitution of society!——"
"Yes," said Evans. "I wish you'd let me know the result of your labours. I think I could make a very incisive article on the subject. The topic is always an attractive one. There is nobody who doesn't feel that somebody else is taking on airs with him, and ought to have his comb cut. Or, if you should happen to prove to Barker that his ignominy is in accordance with the Development Theory, and is a necessary Survival, or something of that sort, don't you see what a card it would be for us with the better classes?"
They went downstairs together, and at the street door Evans stopped again. "Or, I'll tell you what. Make it a simple study of Barker's mind—a sort of psychological interview, and then with what I've been able to get from him we can present the impression that Boston makes upon a young, fresh, shrewd mind. That would be something rather new, wouldn't it? Come! the Afternoon would make it worth your while. And then you could work it into a sermon afterwards."
"You shameless reprobate!" said Sewell, laying his hand affectionately on his friend's arm.
There was nothing in Lemuel's case that seemed to him urgent, and he did not go to see him at once. In the meantime, Fast Day came, and Lemuel got away at last to pay his first visit home.
"Seems to me ye ain't lookin' over and above well, Lem," was the first thing his mother said to him, even before she noticed how well he was dressed.
His new spring overcoat, another prize from the Misfit Parlours, and his new pointed-toe shoes, and Derby hat, with the suit of clothes he had kept so carefully all through the winter, were not the complete disguise he had fancied they might be at Willoughby Pastures. The depot-master had known him as soon as he got out of the cars, and ignored his splendour in recognising him. He said, "Hello, Lem," and had not time to reconcile himself to the boy's changed appearance before Lemuel hurried away with the bag he had bought so long before for the visit. He met several people on his way home from the depot: two of them were women, and one of these said she knew as soon as she looked at him who it was, and the other said she should have known it was Lem Barker as far as she could see him. She asked him if he was home for good now.
His mother pushed back his thick hair with her hard old hand as she spoke to him, and then she pressed his head down upon her neck, which was mostly collar-bone. But Lemuel could hear her heart beat, and the tears came into his eyes.
"Oh, I'm all right, mother," he said huskily, though he tried to say it cheerfully. He let her hold his head there the longer because mixed with his tenderness for her was a horror of her bloomers, which he was not at once able to overcome. When he gained courage to look, he saw that she had them on, but now he had the strength to bear it.
"Ye had any breakfast?" she asked, and when he said that he had got a cup of coffee at Fitchburg, she said, well, she must get him something, and she drew him a cup of Japan tea, and made him some milk toast and picked-fish, talking all the time, and telling him how his sister and her husband had gone to the village to have one of her teeth drawn. They had got along through the winter pretty well; but she guessed that they would have had more to complain of if it had not been for him. This was her way of acknowledging the help Lemuel had given them every week, and it was casually sandwiched between an account of an Indian Spirit treatment which Reuben had tried for his rheumatism, and a question whether Lemuel had seen anything of that Mind Cure down to Boston.
But when he looked about the room, and saw here and there the simple comforts and necessaries which his money had bought the sick man and the two helpless women, his heart swelled with joy and pride; and he realised the pleasure we all feel in being a good genius. At times it had come pretty hard to send the greater part of his week's wages home, but now he was glad he had done it. The poor, coarse food which his mother had served him as a treat; the low, cracked ceilings; the waving floor, covered with rag carpet; the sagging doors, and the old-fashioned trim of the small-paned windows, were all very different from the luxurious abundance, the tesselated pavement, and the tapestry Brussels, the lofty studding, and the black walnut mouldings of the St. Albans; and Lemuel felt the difference with a curious mixture of pride and remorse in his own escape from the meanness of his home. He felt the self-reproach to which the man who rises without raising with him all those dear to him is destined in some measure all his life. His interests and associations are separated from theirs, but if he is not an ignoble spirit, the ties of affection remain unweakened; he cares for them with a kind of indignant tenderness, and calls himself to account before them in the midst of pleasures which they cannot share, or even imagine.
Lemuel's mother did not ask him much about his life in Boston; she had not the materials for curiosity about it; but he told her everything that he thought she could understand. She recurred to his hopes when he left home and their disappointment in Sewell, and she asked if Lemuel ever saw him nowadays. She could not reconcile herself to his reconciliation with Sewell, whom she still held to have behaved treacherously. Then she went back to Lemuel's looks, and asked him if he kept pretty well; and when he answered that he did, she smoothed with her hand the knot between her eyes, and did not question him further.
He had the whole forenoon with his mother, and he helped her to get the dinner, as he used to do, pulling the stove-wood out of the snow-drift that still embedded part of the wood-pile, though the snow was all gone around Boston. It was thawing under the dull, soft April sky, and he saw the first bluebird perched on the clothes-line when he went out for the wood; his mother said there had been lots of them. He walked about the place, and into the barn, taking in the forlornness and shabbiness; and then he went up into the room over the shed, where he used to study and write. His heart ached with self-pity.
He realised as he had not done at a distance how dependent this wretched home was upon him; and after meaning the whole morning to tell his mother about Statira, he decided that he was keeping it from her, not merely because he was ashamed to tell her that he was engaged, but because it seemed such a crazy thing, for a person in his circumstances, if it was really an engagement. He had not seen Statira since that night when he brought her to look at the pictures the art-students had made of him. He felt that he had not parted with her kindly, and he went to see her the night before he started home, though it was not Sunday, but he had found her door locked, and this made him angry with her, he could not have said just why. If he told his mother about Statira now, what should he tell her? He compromised by telling her about the two girls that had painted his likeness.
His mother seemed not to care a great deal about the pictures. She said, "I don't want you should let any girl make a fool of you, Lem."
"Oh no," he answered, and went and looked out of the window.
"I don't say but what they're nice girls enough, but in your place you no need to throw yourself away."
Lemuel thought of the awe of Miss Carver in which he lived, and the difference between them; and he could have laughed at his mother's ignorant pride. What would she say if she knew that he was engaged to a girl that worked in a box-factory? But probably she would not think that studying art and teaching it was any better. She evidently believed that his position in the St. Albans was superior to that of Miss Carver.
His sister and her husband came home before they had finished dinner. His sister had her face all tied up to keep from taking cold after having her tooth drawn, and Lemuel had to go out and help his rheumatic brother-in-law put up the horse. When they came in, his brother-in-law did not wash his hands before going to the table, and Lemuel could not keep his eyes off his black and broken fingernails; his mother's and sister's nails were black too. It must have been so when he lived at home.
His sister could not eat; she took some tea, and went to bed. His brother-in-law pulled off his boots after dinner, and put up his stocking-feet on the stove-hearth to warm them.
There was no longer any chance to talk with his mother indoors, and he asked her if she would not like to come out; it was very mild. She put on her bonnet, and they strolled down the road. All the time Lemuel had to keep from looking at her bloomers. When they met any one driving, he had to keep himself from trying to look as if he were not with her, but was just out walking alone.
The day wore heavily away. His brother-in-law's rheumatism came on toward evening, and his sister's face had swollen, so that it would not do for her to go out. Lemuel put on some old clothes he found in his room, and milked the cows himself.
"Like old times, Lem," said his mother, when he came in.
"Yes," he assented quietly.
He and his mother had tea together, but pretty soon afterwards she seemed to get sleepy; and Lemuel said he had been up early and he guessed he would go to bed. His mother said she guessed she would go too.
After he had blown out his light, she came in to see if he were comfortable. "I presume it seems a pretty poor place to you, Lem," she said, holding her lamp up and looking round.
"I guess if it's good enough for you it is for me," he answered evasively.
"No, it ain't," she said. "I always b'en used to it, and I can see from your talk that you've got used to something different already. Well, it's right, Lem. You're a good boy, and I want you should get the good of Boston, all you can. We don't any of us begrutch it to ye; and what I came up to say now was, don't you scrimp yourself down there to send home to us. We got a roof over our heads, and we can keep soul and body together somehow; we always have, and we don't need a great deal. But I want you should keep yourself nicely dressed down to Boston, so 't you can go with the best; I don't want you should feel anyways meechin' on account of your clothes. You got a good figure, Lem; you take after your father. Sometimes I wish you was a little bigger; but he wa'n't; and he had a big spirit. He wa'n't afraid of anything; and they said if he'd come out o' that battle where he was killed, he'd 'a' b'en a captain. He was a good man."
She had hardly ever spoken so much of his father before; he knew now by the sound of her voice in the dim room that the tears must be in her eyes; but she governed herself and went on.
"What I wanted to say was, don't you keep sendin' so much o' your money home, child. It's yours, and I want you should have it; most of it goes for patent medicines, anyway, when it gets here; we can't keep Reuben from buying 'em, and he's always changin' doctors. And I want you should hold yourself high, Lem. You're as good as anybody. And don't you go with any girls, especially, that ain't of the best. You're gettin' to that time o' life when you'll begin to think about 'em; but don't you go and fall in love with the first little poppet you see, because she's got pretty eyes and curly hair."
It seemed to Lemuel as if she must know about Statira, but of course she did not. He lay still, and she went on.
"Don't you go and get engaged, or any such foolishness in a hurry, Lem. Them art-student girls you was tellin' about, I presume they're all right enough; but you wait a while. Young men think it's a kind of miracle if a girl likes 'em, and they're ready to go crazy over it; but it's the most natural thing she can do. You just wait a while. When you get along a little further, you can pick and choose for yourself. I don't know as I should want you should marry for money; but don't you go and take up with the first thing comes along, because you're afraid to look higher. What's become o' that nasty thing that talked so to you at that Miss Vane's?"
Lemuel said that he had never seen Sibyl or Miss Vane since; but he did not make any direct response to the anxieties his mother had hinted at. Her pride in him, so ignorant of all the reality of his life in the city, crushed him more than the sight and renewed sense of the mean conditions from which he had sprung. What if he should tell her that Miss Carver, whom she did not want him to marry in a hurry, regarded him as a servant, and treated him as she would treat a black man? What if she knew that he was as good as engaged to marry a girl that could no more meet Miss Carver on the same level than she could fly? He could only tell his mother not to feel troubled about him; that he was not going to get married in any great hurry; and pretend to be sleepy and turn his head away.
She pulled the covering up round his neck and tucked it in with her strong, rough old hand, whose very tenderness hurt.
He had expected to stay the greater part of the next day, but he took an earlier train. His sister was still laid up; she thought she must have taken cold in her jaw; her husband, rumpled, unshaven, with a shawl over his shoulders, cowered about the cook-stove for the heat. He began to hate this poverty and suffering, to long for escape from it to the life which at that distance seemed so rich and easy and pleasant; he trembled lest something might have happened in his absence to have thrown him out of his place.
All the way to Boston he was under the misery of the home that he was leaving; his mother's pride added to the burden of it. But when the train drew in sight of the city, and he saw the steeples and chimneys, and the thin masts of the ships printed together against the horizon, his heart rose. He felt equal to it, to anything in it.
He arrived in the middle of the afternoon, and he saw no one at the hotel except the Harmons till toward dinner-time. Then the ladies coming in from shopping had a word of welcome for him; some of them stopped and shook hands at the office, and when they began to come down to dinner they spoke to him, and there again some of them offered their hands; they said it seemed an age since he had gone.
The art-students came down with Berry, who shook hands so cordially with him that perhaps they could not help it. Miss Carver seemed to hesitate, but she gave him her hand too, and she asked, as the others had done, whether he had found his family well.
He did not know what to think. Sometimes he felt as if people were trying to make a fool of him almost. He remained blushing and smiling to himself after the last of them had gone in to dinner. He did not know what Miss Carver meant, but her eyes seemed to have lost that cold distance, and to have come nearer to him.
Late at night Berry came to him where he sat at his desk. "Well, Barker, I'm glad you're back again, old man. Feels as if you'd been gone a month of Sundays. Didn't know whether we should have you with us this first evening."
Lemuel grew hot with consciousness, and did not make it better for himself by saying, "I don't know what you mean."
"Well, I don't suppose I should in your place," returned Berry. "It's human nature. It's all right. What did the ladies think of the 'Roman Youth' the other night? The distinguished artists weren't sure exactly, and I thought I could make capital with one of 'em if I could find out. Yes, that's my little game, Barker; that's what I dropped in for; Bismarck style of diplomacy. I'll tell you why they want to know, if you won't give me away: Miss Swan wanted to give her 'bit of colour'—that's what she calls it—to one of the young ladies; but she's afraid she didn't like it."
"I guess they liked it well enough," said Lemuel, thinking with shame that Statira had not had the grace to say a word of either of the pictures; he attributed this to 'Manda Grier's influence.
"Well that's good, so far as it goes," said Berry. "But now, to come down to particulars, what did they say? That's what Miss Swan will ask me."
"I don't remember just what they said," faltered Lemuel.
"Well, they must have said something," insisted Berry jocosely. "Give a fellow some little clue, and I can piece it out for myself. What did she say? I don't ask which she was? but I have my suspicions. All I want to know is what she said. Anything like beautiful middle distance, or splendid chiaroscuro, or fine perspective, or exquisite modelling? Come now! Try to think, Barker." He gave Lemuel time, but to no purpose. "Well," he resumed, with affected dejection, "I'll have to try to imagine it; I guess I can; I haven't worked my imagination much since I took up the law. But look here, Barker," he continued more briskly, "now you open up a little. Here I've been giving you my confidence ever since I saw you—forcing it on you; and you know just how far I'm gone on Miss Swan, to a hundredth part of an inch; but I don't know enough of your affections to swear that you've got any. Now, which one is it? Don't be mean about it. I won't give you away. Honest Injun!"
Lemuel was goaded to desperation. His face burned, and the perspiration began to break out on his forehead. He did not know how to escape from this pursuit.
"Which is it, Barker?" repeated his tormentor. "I know it's human nature to deny it; though I never could understand why; if I was engaged, the Sunday papers should have it about as quick!"
"I'm not engaged!" cried Lemuel.
"You ain't?" yelled Berry.
"Give me your hand! Neither am I!"
He shook Lemuel's helpless hand with mock heroic fervour. "We are brothers from this time forth, Barker! You can't imagine how closely this tie binds you to me, Barker. Barker, we are one; with no particular prospect, as far as I am concerned, of ever being more."
He offered to dramatise a burst of tears on Lemuel's shoulder; but Lemuel escaped from him.
"Stop! Quit your fooling! What if somebody should come in?"
"They won't," said Berry, desisting, and stretching himself at ease in the only chair besides Lemuel's with which the office was equipped. "It's too late for 'em. Now o'er the one-half world nature seems dead-ah, and wicked dreams abuse the curtained sleep-ah. We are safe here from all intrusion, and I can lay bare my inmost thoughts to you, Barker, if I happen to have any. Barker, I'm awfully glad you're not engaged to either of those girls,—or both. And it's not altogether because I enjoy the boon companionship of another unengaged man, but it's partly because I don't think—shall I say it?"
"Say what?" asked Lemuel, not without some prescience.
"Well, you can forgive the brotherly frankness, if you don't like it. I don't think they're quite up to you."
Lemuel gave a sort of start, which Berry interpreted in his own way.
"Now, hold on! I know just how you feel. Been there myself. I have seen the time too when I thought any sort of girl was too good for Alonzo W., Jr. But I don't now. I think A. W., Jr., is good enough for the best. I may be mistaken; I was the other time. But we all begin that way; and the great object is not to keep on that way. See? Now, I suppose you're in love—puppy love—with that little thing. Probably the first girl you got acquainted with after you came to Boston, or may be a sweet survival of the Willoughby Pastures period. All right. Perfectly natural, in either case. But don't you let it go any further, my dear boy; old man, don't you let it go any further. Pause! Reflect! Consider! Love wisely, but not too well! Take the unsolicited advice of a sufferer."
Pride, joy, shame, remorse, mixed in Lemuel's heart, which eased itself in an involuntary laugh at Berry's nonsense.
"Now, what I want you to do—dear boy, or old man, as the case may be—is to regard yourself in a new light. Regard yourself, for the sake of the experiment, as too good for any girl in Boston. No? Can't fetch it? Try again!"
Lemuel could only laugh foolishly.
"Well, now, that's singular," pursued Berry. "I supposed you could have done it without the least trouble. Well, let's try something a little less difficult. Look me in the eye, and regard yourself as too good, for example, for Miss Carver. Ha!"
An angry flush spread over Lemuel's embarrassed face. "I wish you'd behave yourself," he stammered.
"In any other cause I would," said Berry solemnly. "But I must be cruel to be kind. Seriously, old man, if you can't think yourself too good for Miss Carver, I wish you'd think yourself good enough. Now, I'm not saying anything against the Willoughby episode, mind. That has its place in the wise economy of nature, just like anything else. But there ain't any outcome in it for you. You've got a future before you, Barker, and you don't want to go and load up with a love affair that you'll keep trying to unload as long as you live. No, sir! Look at me! I know I'm not an example in some things, but in this little business of correctly placed affections I could give points to Solomon. Why am I in love with M. Swan? Because I can't help it for one thing, and because for another thing she can do more to develop the hidden worth and unsuspected powers of A. W., Jr., than any other woman in the world. She may never feel that it's her mission, but she can't shake my conviction that way; and I shall stay undeveloped to prove that I was right. Well, now, what you want, my friend, is development, and you can't get it where you've been going. She hain't got it on hand. And what you want to do is not to take something else in its place—tender heart, steadfast affections, loyalty; they've got 'em at every shop in town; they're a drug in the market. You've got to say 'No development, heigh? Well, I'll just look round a while, and if I can't find it at some of the other stores I'll come back and take some of that steadfast affection. You say it won't come off? Or run in washing?' See?"
"You ought to be ashamed of yourself," said Lemuel, trying to summon an indignant feeling, and laughing with a strange pleasure at heart. "You've got no right to talk to me that way. I want you should leave me alone!"
"Well, since you're so pressing, I will go," said Berry easily. "But if I find you at our next interview sitting under the shade of the mustard-tree whose little seed I have just dropped, I shall feel that I have not laboured in vain. 'She's a darling, she's a daisy, she's a dumpling, she's a lamb!' I refer to Miss Swan, of course; but on other lips the terms are equally applicable to Miss Carver; and don't you forget it!"
He swung out of the office with a mazurka step. His silk hat, gaily tilted on the side of his head, struck against the door-jamb, and fell rolling across the entry floor. Lemuel laughed wildly. At twenty these things are droll.
A week passed, and Lemuel had not tried to see Statira again. He said to himself that even when he had tried to do what was right, and to show those young ladies how much he thought of her by bringing her to see their pictures, she had acted very ungratefully, and had as good as tried to quarrel with him. Then, when he went to see her before his visit home, she was out; she had never been out before when he called.
Now, he had told Berry that they were not engaged. At first, this shocked him as if it were a lie. Then he said to himself that he had a right to make that answer because Berry had no right to ask the questions that led to it. Then he asked himself if he really were engaged to Statira. He had told her that he liked her better than any one else in the world, and she had said as much to him. But he pretended that he did not know whether it could be called an engagement.
There was no one who could solve the question for him, and it kept asking itself that whole week, and especially when he was with Miss Carver, as happened two or three times through Berry's connivance. Once he had spent the greater part of an evening in the studio, where he talked nearly all the time with Miss Carver, and he found out that she was the daughter of an old ship's captain at Corbitant; her mother was dead, and her aunt had kept house for her father. It was an old square house that her grandfather built, in the days when Corbitant had direct trade with France. She described it minutely, and told how a French gentleman had died there in exile at the time of the French revolution and who was said to haunt the house; but Miss Carver had never seen any ghosts in it. They all began to talk of ghosts and weird experiences; even Berry had had some strange things happen to him in the West. Then the talk broke in two again, and Lemuel sat apart with Miss Carver, who told at length the plot of a story she had been reading; it was a story called Romola; and she said she would lend it to Lemuel; she said she did not see how any one could bear to be the least selfish or untrue after reading it. That made Lemuel feel cold; but he could not break away from her charm. She sat where the shaded lamp threw its soft light on one side of her face; it looked almost like the face of a spirit, and her eyes were full of a heavenly gentleness.
Lemuel asked himself how he could ever have thought them proud eyes. He asked himself at the same time and perpetually, whether he was really engaged to Statira or not. He thought how different this evening was from those he spent with her. She could not talk about anything but him and her dress; and 'Manda Grier could not do anything but say saucy things which she thought were smart. Miss Swan was really witty; it was as good as the theatre to hear her and Berry going on together. Berry was pretty bright; there was no denying it. He sang to his banjo that night; one of the songs was Spanish; he had learned it in New Mexico.
Lemuel began to understand better how such nice young ladies could go with Berry. At first, after Berry talked so to him that night in the office against Statira, he determined that he would keep away from him. But Berry was so sociable and good-natured that he could not. The first thing he knew, Lemuel was laughing at something Berry said, and then he could not help himself.
Berry was coming now, every chance he had, to talk about the art- students. He seemed to take it for granted that Lemuel was as much interested in Miss Carver as he was himself in Miss Swan; and Lemuel did begin to speak of her in a shy way. Berry asked him if he had noticed that she looked like that Spanish picture of the Virgin that Miss Swan had pinned up next to the door; and Lemuel admitted that there was some resemblance.
"Notice those eyes of hers, so deep, and sorry for everybody in general? If it was anybody in particular, that fellow would be in luck. Oh. she's a dumpling, there's no mistake about it! 'Nymph, in thy orisons be all my sins remembered!' That's Miss Carver's style. She looks as if she just wanted to forgive somebody something. I'm afraid you ain't wicked enough, Barker. Look here! What's the reason we can't make up a little party for the Easter service at the Catholic cathedral Sunday night? The girls would like to go, I know."
"No, no, I can't! I mustn't!" said Lemuel, and he remained steadfast in his refusal. It would be the second Sunday night that he had not seen Statira, and he felt that he must not let it pass so. Berry went off to the cathedral with the art-students; and he kept out of the way till they were gone.
He said to himself that he would go a little later than usual to see Statira, to let her know that he was not so very anxious; but when he found her alone, and she cried on his neck, and owned that she had not behaved as she should that night when she went to see the pictures, and that she had been afraid he hated her, and was not coming any more, he had stayed away so long, his heart was melted, and he did everything to soothe and comfort her, and they were more loving together than they had been since the first time. 'Manda Grier came in, and said through her nose, like an old country-woman, "'The falling out of faithful friends, renewing is of love!'" and Statira exclaimed in the old way, "'Manda!" that he had once thought so cunning, and rested there in his arms with her cheek tight pressed against his.
She did not talk; except when she was greatly excited about something, she rarely had anything to say. She had certain little tricks, poutings, bridlings, starts, outcries, which had seemed the most bewitching things in the world to Lemuel. She tried all these now, unaffectedly enough, in listening to his account of his visit home, and so far as she could she vividly sympathised with him.
He came away heavy and unhappy. Somehow, these things no longer sufficed for him. He compared this evening with the last he had spent with the art-students, which had left his brain in a glow, and kept him awake for hours with luminous thoughts. But he had got over that unkindness to Statira, and he was glad of that. He pitied her now, and he said to himself that if he could get her away from 'Manda Grier, and under the influence of such girls as Miss Swan and Miss Carver, it would be much better for her. He did not relent toward 'Manda Grier; he disliked her more than ever, and in the friendship which he dramatised between Statira and Miss Carver, he saw her cast adrift without remorse.
Sewell had told him that he was always at leisure Monday night, and the next evening Lemuel went to pay his first visit to the minister since his first day in Boston. It was early, and Evans, who usually came that evening, had not arrived yet, but Sewell had him in his thought when he hurried forward to meet his visitor.
"Oh, is it you, Mr. Barker?" he asked in a note of surprise. "I am glad to see you. I had been intending to come and look you up again. Will you sit down? Mr. Evans was here the other night, and we were talking of you. I hope you are all well?"
"Very well, thank you," said Lemuel, taking the hand the minister offered, and then taking the chair he indicated. Sewell did not know exactly whether to like the greater ease which Lemuel showed in his presence; but there was nothing presumptuous in it, and he could not help seeing the increased refinement of the young man's beauty. The knot between his eyes gave him interest, while it inflicted a vague pang upon the minister. "I have been at home since I saw you." Lemuel looked down at his neat shoes to see if they were in fit state for the minister's study-carpet, and Sewell's eye sympathetically following, wandered to the various details of Lemuel's simple and becoming dress,—the light spring suit which he had indulged himself in at the Misfit Parlours since his mother had bidden him keep his money for himself and not send so much of it home.
"Ah, have you?" cried the minister. "I hope you found your people all well? How is the place looking? I suppose the season isn't quite so advanced as it is with us."
"There's some snow in the woods yet," said Lemuel, laying the stick he carried across the hat-brim on his knees. "Mother was well; but my sister and her husband have had a good deal of sickness."
"Oh, I'm sorry for that," said Sewell, with the general sympathy which Evans accused him of keeping on tap professionally. "Well, how did you like the looks of Willoughby Pastures compared with Boston? Rather quieter, I suppose."
"Yes, it was quieter," answered Lemuel.
"But the first touch of spring must be very lovely there! I find myself very impatient with these sweet, early days in town. I envy you your escape to such a place."
Lemuel opposed a cold silence to the lurking didacticism of these sentences, and Sewell hastened to add, "And I wish I could have had your experience in contrasting the country and the town, after your long sojourn here, on your first return home. Such a chance can come but once in a lifetime, and to very few."
"There are some pleasant things about the country," Lemuel began.
"Oh, I am sure of it!" cried Sewell, with cheerful aimlessness.
"The stillness was a kind of rest, after the noise here; I think any one might be glad to get back to such a place——"
"I was sure you would," interrupted Sewell.
"If he was discouraged or broken down any way," Lemuel calmly added.
"Oh!" said Sewell. "You mean that you found more sympathy among your old friends and neighbours than you do here?"
"No," said Lemuel bluntly. "That's what city people think. But it's all a mistake. There isn't half the sympathy in the country that there is in the city. Folks pry into each other's business more, but they don't really care so much. What I mean is that you could live cheaper, and the fight isn't so hard. You might have to use your hands more, but you wouldn't have to use your head hardly at all. There isn't so much opposition—competition."
"Oh," said Sewell a second time. "But this competition—this struggle—in which one or the other must go to the wall, isn't that painful?"
"I don't know as it is," answered Lemuel, "as long as you're young and strong. And it don't always follow that one must go to the wall. I've seen some things where both got on better."
Sewell succumbed to this worldly wisdom. He was frequently at the disadvantage men of cloistered lives must be, in having his theories in advance of his facts. He now left this point, and covertly touched another that had come up in his last talk with Evans about Barker. "But you find in the country, don't you, a greater equality of social condition? People are more on a level, and have fewer artificial distinctions."
"Yes, there's that," admitted Lemuel. "I've worried a good deal about that, for I've had to take a servant's place in a good many things, and I've thought folks looked down on me for it, even when they didn't seem to intend to do it. But I guess it isn't so bad as I thought when I first began to notice it. Do you suppose it is?" His voice was suddenly tense with personal interest in the question which had ceased to be abstract.
"Oh, certainly not," said the minister, with an ease which he did not feel.
"I presume I had what you may call a servant's place at Miss Vane's," pursued Lemuel unflinchingly, "and I've been what you may call head waiter at the St. Albans, since I've been there. If a person heard afterwards, when I had made out something, if I ever did, that I had been a servant, would they—they—despise me for it?"
"Not unless they were very silly people," said Sewell cordially, "I can assure you."
"But if they had ever seen me doing a servant's work, wouldn't they always remember it, no matter what I was afterwards?" Sewell hesitated, and Lemuel hurried to add, "I ask because I've made up my mind not to be anything but clerk after this."
Sewell pitied the simple shame, the simple pride. "That isn't the question for you to ask, my dear boy," he answered gently, and with an affection which he had never felt for his charge before. "There's another question, more important, and one which you must ask yourself: 'Should I care if they did?' After all, the matter's in your own hands. Your soul's always your own till you do something wrong."
"Yes, I understand that." Lemuel sat silently thoughtful, fingering his hat-band. It seemed to Sewell that he wished to ask something else, and was mustering his courage; but if this was so, it exhaled in a sigh, and he remained silent.
"I should be sorry," pursued the minister, "to have you dwell upon such things. There are certain ignoble facts in life which we can best combat by ignoring them. A slight of almost any sort ceases to be when you cease to consider it." This did not strike Sewell as wholly true when he had said it, and he was formulating some modification of it in his mind, when Lemuel said—
"I presume a person can help himself some by being ashamed of caring for such things, and that's what I've tried to do."
"Yes, that's what I meant——"
"I guess I've exaggerated the whole thing some. But if a thing is so, thinking it ain't won't unmake it."
"No," admitted Sewell reluctantly. "But I should be sorry, all the same, if you let it annoy—grieve you. What has pleased me in what I've been able to observe in you, has been your willingness to take hold of any kind of honest work. I liked finding you with your coat off washing dishes, that morning, at the Wayfarer's Lodge, and I liked your going at once to Miss Vane's in a—as you did——"
"Of course," Lemuel interrupted, "I could do it before I knew how it was looked at here."
"And couldn't you do it now?"
"Not if there was anything else."
"Ah, that's the great curse of it; that's what I deplore," Sewell broke out, "in our young people coming from the country to the city. They must all have some genteel occupation! I don't blame them; but I would gladly have saved you this experience—this knowledge—if I could. I felt that I had done you a kind of wrong in being the means, however indirectly and innocently, of your coming to Boston, and I would willingly have done anything to have you go back to the country. But you seemed to distrust me—to find something hostile in me—and I did not know how to influence you."
"Yes, I understand that," said Lemuel. "I couldn't help it, at first. But I've got to see it all in a different light since then. I know that you meant the best by me. I know now that what I wrote wasn't worth anything, and just how you must have looked at it. I didn't know some things then that I do now; and since I have got to know a little more I have understood better what you meant by all you said."
"I am very glad," said Sewell, with sincere humility, "that you have kept no hard feeling against me."
"Oh, not at all. It's all right now. I couldn't explain very well that I hadn't come to the city just to be in the city, but because I had to do something to help along at home. You didn't seem to understand that there wa'n't anything there for me to take hold of."
"No, I'm afraid I didn't, or wouldn't quite understand that; I was talking and acting, I'm afraid, from a preconceived notion." Lemuel made no reply, not having learned yet to utter the pleasant generalities with which city people left a subject; and after a while Sewell added, "I am glad to have seen your face so often at church. You have been a great deal in my mind, and I have wished to do something to make your life happy, and useful to you in the best way, here, but I haven't quite known how." At this point Sewell realised that it was nearly eight months since Lemuel had come to Boston, and he said contritely, "I have not made the proper effort, I'm afraid; but I did not know exactly how to approach you. You were rather a difficult subject," he continued, with a smile in which Lemuel consented to join, "but now that we've come to a clearer understanding—" He broke off and asked, "Have you many acquaintances in Boston?"
Lemuel hesitated, and cleared his throat, "Not many."
Something in his manner prompted the minister to say, "That is such a very important thing for young men in a strange place. I wish you would come oftener to see us, hereafter. Young men, in the want of companionship, often form disadvantageous acquaintances, which they can't shake off afterwards, when they might wish to do so. I don't mean evil acquaintance; I certainly couldn't mean that in your case; but frivolous ones, from which nothing high or noble can come— nothing of improvement or development."
Lemuel started at the word and blushed. It was Berry's word. Sewell put his own construction on the start and the blush.
"Especially," he went on, "I should wish any young man whom I was interested in to know refined and noble woman." He felt that this was perhaps in Lemuel's case too much like prescribing port wine and carriage exercise to an indigent patient, and he added, "If you cannot know such women, it is better to know none at all. It is not what women say or do, so much as the art they have of inspiring a man to make the best of himself. The accidental acquaintances that young people are so apt to form are in most cases very detrimental. There is no harm in them of themselves, perhaps, but all irregularity in the life of the young is to be deplored."
"Do you mean," asked Lemuel, with that concreteness which had alarmed Sewell before, "that they ought to be regularly introduced?"
"I mean that a young girl who allowed a young man to make her acquaintance outside of the—the—social sanctions—would be apt to be a silly or romantic person, at the best. Of course, there are exceptions. But I should be very sorry if any young man I knew—no; why shouldn't I say you, at once?—should involve himself in any such way. One thing leads to another, especially with the young; and the very fact of irregularity, of romance, of strangeness in an acquaintance, throws a false glamour over the relation, and appeals to the sentiments in an unwarranted degree."
"Yes, that is so," said Lemuel.
The admission stimulated Sewell in the belief that he had a clue in his hand which it was his duty to follow up. "The whole affair loses proportion and balance. The fancy becomes excited, and some of the most important interests—the very most important interests of life—are committed to impulse." Lemuel remained silent, and it seemed the silence of conviction. "A young man is better for knowing women older than himself, more cultivated, devoted to higher things. Of course, young people must see each other, must fall in love and get married; but there need be no haste about such things. If there is haste—if there is rashness, thoughtlessness—there is sure to be unhappiness. Men are apt to outgrow their wives intellectually, if their wives' minds are set on home and children, as they should be, and allowance for this ought to be made, if possible. I would rather that in the beginning the wife should be the mental superior. I hope it will be several years yet before you think seriously of such things, but when the time comes, I hope you will have seen some young girl—there are such for every one of us—whom it is civilisation and enlightenment, refinement, and elevation, simply to know. On the other hand, a silly girl's influence is degrading and ruinous. She either drags those attached to her down to her own level; or she remains a weight and a clog upon the life of a man who loves her."
"Yes," said Lemuel, with a sigh which Sewell interpreted as that of relief from danger recognised in time.
He pursued eagerly. "I could not warn any one too earnestly against such an entanglement."
Lemuel rose and looked about with a troubled glance. Sewell continued: "Any such marriage—a marriage upon any such conditions— is sure to be calamitous; and if the conditions are recognised beforehand, it is sure to be iniquitous. So far from urging the fulfilment of even a promise, in such a case, I would have every such engagement broken, in the interest of humanity—of morality——"
Mrs. Sewell came into the room, and gave a little start of surprise, apparently not mixed with pleasure, at seeing Lemuel. She had never been able to share her husband's interest in him, while insisting upon his responsibility; she disliked him not logically, but naturally, for the wrong and folly which he had been the means of her husband's involving himself in; Miss Vane's kindliness toward Lemuel, which still survived, and which expressed itself in questions about him whenever she met the minister, was something that Mrs. Sewell could not understand. She now said, "Oh! Mr. Barker!" and coldly gave him her hand. "Have you been well? Must you go?"
"Yes, thank you. I have got to be getting back. Well, good evening." He bowed to the Sewells.
"You must come again to see me," said the minister, and looked at his wife.
"Yes, it has been a very long time since you were here," Mrs. Sewell added.
"I haven't had a great deal of time to myself," said Lemuel, and he contrived to get himself out of the room.
Sewell followed him down to the door, in the endeavour to say something more on the subject his wife had interrupted, but he only contrived to utter some feeble repetitions. He came back in vexation, which he visited upon Lemuel. "Silly fellow!" he exclaimed.
"What has he been doing now?" asked Mrs. Sewell, with reproachful discouragement.
"Oh, I don't know! I suspect that he's been involving himself in some ridiculous love affair!" Mrs. Sewell looked a silent inculpation. "It's largely conjecture on my part, of course,—he's about as confiding as an oyster!—but I fancy I have said some things in a conditional way that will give him pause. I suspect from his manner that he has entangled himself with some other young simpleton, and that he's ashamed of it, or tired of it, already. If that's the case, I have hit the nail on the head. I told him that a foolish, rash engagement was better broken than kept. The foolish marriages that people rush into are the greatest bane of life!"
"And would you really have advised him, David," asked his wife, "to break off an engagement if he had made one?"
"Of course I should! I——"
"Then I am glad I came in in time to prevent your doing anything so wicked."
"Wicked?" Sewell turned from his desk, where he was about to sit down, in astonishment.
"Yes! Do you think that nobody else is to be considered in such a thing? What about the poor, silly girl if he breaks off with her? Oh, you men are all alike! Even the best! You think it is a dreadful thing for a young man to be burdened with a foolish love affair at the beginning of his career; but you never think of the girl whose whole career is spoiled, perhaps, if the affair is broken off! Hasn't she any right to be considered?"
"I should think," said Sewell, distinctly daunted, "that they were equally fortunate, if it were broken off."
"O my dear, you know you don't think anything of the kind! If he has more mind than she has, and is capable of doing something in the world, he goes on and forgets her; but she remembers him. Perhaps it's her one chance in life to get married—to have a home. You know very well that in a case of that kind—a rash engagement, as you call it—both are to blame; and shall one do all the suffering? Very probably his fancy was taken first, and he followed her up, and flattered her into liking him; and now shall he leave her because he's tired of her?"
"Yes," said Sewell, recovering from the first confusion which his wife's unexpected difference of opinion had thrown him into, "I should think that was the very best reason in the world why he should leave her. Would his marrying make matters worse or better if he were tired of her? As for wickedness, I should feel myself guilty if I did not do my utmost to prevent marriages between people when one or other wished to break their engagement, and had not the moral courage to do so. There is no more pernicious delusion than that one's word ought to be kept in such an affair, after the heart has gone out of it, simply because it's been given."
But Sewell was not to be restrained. "I am right about this, Lucy, and you know it. Half the miserable marriages in the world could be prevented, if there were only some frank and fearless adviser at hand to say to the foolish things that if they no longer fully and freely love each other they can commit no treason so deadly as being true to their word. I wish," he now added, "that I could be the means of breaking off every marriage that the slightest element of doubt enters into beforehand. I should leave much less work for the divorce courts. The trouble comes from that crazy and mischievous principle of false self-sacrifice that I'm always crying out against. If a man has ceased to love the woman he has promised to marry—or vice versa—the best possible thing they can do, the only righteous thing, is not to marry."
Mrs. Sewell could not deny this. She directed an oblique attack from another quarter, as women do, while affecting not to have changed her ground at all. "Very well, then, David, I wish you would have nothing to do with that crazy and mischievous principle yourself. I wish you would let this ridiculous Barker of yours alone from this time forth. He has found a good place, where he is of use, and where he is doing very well. Now I think your responsibility is fairly ended. I hope you won't meddle with his love affairs, if he has any; for if you do, you will probably have your hands full. He is very good looking, and all sorts of silly little geese will be falling in love with him."
"Well, so far his love troubles are purely conjectural," said Sewell with a laugh. "I'm bound to say that Barker himself didn't say a word to justify the conjecture that he was either in love or wished to be out of it. However, I've given him some wholesome advice which he'll be all the better for taking, merely as a prophylactic, if nothing else."
"I am tired of him," sighed Mrs. Sewell. "Is he going to keep perpetually turning up, in this way? I hope you were not very pressing with him in your invitations to him to call again?"
Sewell smiled. "You were not, my dear."
"You let him take too much of your time. I was so provoked, when I heard you going on with him, that I came down to put an end to it."
"Well, you succeeded," said Sewell easily. "Don't you think he's greatly improved in the short time he's been in the city?"
"He's very well dressed. I hope he isn't extravagant."
"He's not only well dressed, but he's beginning to be well spoken. I believe he's beginning to observe that there is such a thing as not talking through the nose. He still says, 'I don't know as,' but most of the men they turn out of Harvard say that; I've heard some of the professors say it."
Mrs. Sewell was not apparently interested in this.
That night Lemuel told Mrs. Harmon that she must not expect him to do anything thenceforward but look after the accounts and the general management; she must get a head-waiter, and a boy to run the elevator. She consented to this, as she would have consented to almost anything else that he proposed.
He had become necessary to the management of the St. Albans in every department; and if the lady boarders felt that they could not now get on without him, Mrs. Harmon was even more dependent.
With her still nominally at the head of affairs, and controlling the expenses as a whole, no radical reform could be effected. But there were details of the outlay in which Lemuel was of use, and he had brought greater comfort into the house for less money. He rejected her old and simple device of postponing the payment of debt as an economical measure, and substituted cash dealings with new purveyors. He gradually but inevitably took charge of the store- room, and stopped the waste there; early in his administration he had observed the gross and foolish prodigality with which the portions were sent from the carving-room, and after replacing Mrs. Harmon's nephew there, he established a standard portion that gave all the needed variety, and still kept the quantity within bounds. It came to his taking charge of this department entirely, and as steward he carved the meats, and saw that nothing was in a way to become cold before he opened the dining-room doors as head-waiter.
His activities promoted the leisure which Mrs. Harmon had always enjoyed, and which her increasing bulk fitted her to adorn. Her nephew willingly relinquished the dignity of steward. He said that his furnaces were as much as he wanted to take care of; especially as in former years, when it had begun to come spring, he had experienced a stress of mind in keeping the heat just right, when the ladies were all calling down the tubes for more of it or less of it, which he should now be very glad not to have complicated with other cares. He said that now he could look forward to the month of May with some pleasure.
The guests, sensibly or insensibly, according to their several temperaments, shared the increased ease that came from Lemuel's management. The service was better in every way; their beds were promptly made, their rooms were periodically swept; every night when they came up from dinner they found their pitchers of ice-water at their doors. This change was not accomplished without much of that rebellion and renunciation which was known at the St. Albans as kicking. Chambermaids and table-girls kicked, but they were replaced by Lemuel, who went himself to the intelligence office, and pledged the new ones to his rule beforehand. There was even some kicking among the guests, who objected to the new portions, and to having a second bill sent them if the first remained unpaid for a week; but the general sense of the hotel was in Lemuel's favour.
He had no great pleasure in the reform he had effected. His heart was not in it, except as waste and disorder and carelessness were painful to him. He suffered to promote a better state of things, as many a woman whose love is for books or pictures or society suffers for the perfection of her housekeeping, and sacrifices her taste to achieve it. He would have liked better to read, to go to lectures, to hear sermons; with the knowledge of Mr. Evans's life as an editor and the incentive of a writer near him, he would have liked to try again if he could not write something, though the shame of his failure in Mr. Sewell's eyes had burned so deep. Above all, since he had begun to see how city people regarded the kind of work he had been doing, he would have liked to get out of the hotel business altogether, if he could have been sure of any other.
As the spring advanced his cares grew lighter. Most of the regular boarders went away to country hotels and became regular boarders there. Their places were only partially filled by transients from the South and West, who came and went, and left Lemuel large spaces of leisure, in which he read, or deputed Mrs. Harmon's nephew to the care of the office and pursued his studies of Boston, sometimes with Mr. Evans,—whose newspaper kept him in town, and who liked to prowl about with him, and to frequent the odd summer entertainments,—but mostly alone. They became friends after a fashion, and were in each other's confidence as regarded their opinions and ideas, rather than their history; now and then Evans dropped a word about the boy he had lost, or his wife's health, but Lemuel kept his past locked fast in his breast.
The art-students had gone early in the summer, and Berry had left Boston for Wyoming at the end of the spring term of the law-school. He had not been able to make up his mind to pop before Miss Swan departed, but he thought he should fetch it by another winter; and he had got leave to write to her, on condition, he said, that he should conduct the whole correspondence himself.
Miss Carver had left Lemuel dreaming of her as an ideal, yet true, with a slow, rustic constancy, to Statira. For all that had been said and done, he had not swerved explicitly from her. There was no talk of marriage between them, and could not be; but they were lovers still, and when Miss Carver was gone, and the finer charm of her society was unfelt, he went back to much of the old pleasure he had felt in Statira's love. The resentment of her narrow-mindedness, the shame for her ignorance passed; the sense of her devotion remained.
'Manda Grier wanted her to go home with her for part of the summer, but she would not have consented if Lemuel had not insisted. She wrote him back ill-spelt, scrawly little letters, in one of which she told him that her cough was all gone, and she was as well as ever. She took a little more cold when she returned to town in the first harsh September weather, and her cough returned, but she said she did not call it anything now.
The hotel began to fill up again for the winter. Berry preceded the art-students by some nervous weeks, in which he speculated upon what he should do if they did not come at all. Then they came, and the winter passed, with repetitions of the last winter's events, and a store of common memories that enriched the present, and insensibly deepened the intimacy in which Lemuel found himself. He could not tell whither the present was carrying him; he only knew that he had drifted so far from the squalor of his past, that it seemed like the shadow of a shameful dream.
He did not go to see Statira so often as he used; and she was patient with his absences, and defended him against 'Manda Grier, who did not scruple to tell her that she believed the fellow was fooling with her, and who could not always keep down a mounting dislike of Lemuel in his presence. One night towards spring, when he returned early from Statira's, he found Berry in the office at the St. Albans. "That you, old man?" he asked. "Well, I'm glad you've come. Just going to leave a little Billy Ducks for you here, but now I needn't. The young ladies sent me down to ask if you had a copy of Whittier's poems; they want to find something in it. I told 'em Longfellow would do just as well, but I couldn't seem to convince 'em. They say he didn't write the particular poem they want."
"Yes, I've got Whittier's poems here," said Lemuel, unlocking his desk. "It belongs to Mr. Evans; I guess he won't care if I lend it."
"Well, now, I tell you what," said Berry; "don't you let a borrowed book like that go out of your hands. Heigh? You just bring it up yourself. See?" He winked the eye next Lemuel with exaggerated insinuation. "They'll respect you all the more for being so scrupulous, and I guess they won't be very much disappointed on general principles if you come along. There's lots of human nature in girls—the best of 'em. I'll tell 'em I left you lookin' for it. I don't mind a lie or two in a good cause. But you hurry along up, now."
He was gone before Lemuel could stop him; he could not do anything but follow.
It appeared that it was Miss Swan who wished to see the poem; she could not remember the name of it, but she was sure she should know it if she saw it in the index. She mingled these statements with her greetings to Lemuel, and Miss Carver seemed as glad to see him. She had a little more colour than usual, and they were all smiling, so that he knew Berry had been getting off some of his jokes. But he did not care.
Miss Swan found the poem as she had predicted, and, "Now all keep still," she said, "and I'll read it." But she suddenly added, "Or no; you read it, Mr. Barker, won't you?"
"If Barker ain't just in voice to-night, I'll read it," suggested Berry.
But she would not let him make this diversion. She ignored his offer, and insisted upon Lemuel's reading. "Jessie says you read beautifully. That passage in Romola," she reminded him; but Lemuel said it was only a few lines, and tried to excuse himself. At heart he was proud of his reading, and he ended by taking the book.
When he had finished the two girls sighed.
"Isn't it beautiful, Jessie?" said Miss Swan.
"Beautiful!" answered her friend.
"Well, I don't see much difference between that and a poem of Longfellow's. Why wouldn't Longfellow have done just as well? Honestly, now! Why isn't one poem just as good as another, for all practical purposes?"
"It is, for some people," said Miss Swan.
Berry figured an extreme anguish by writhing in his chair. Miss Swan laughed in spite of herself, and they began to talk in their usual banter, which Miss Carver never took part in, and which Lemuel was quite incapable of sharing. If it had come to savage sarcasm or a logical encounter, he could have held his own, but he had a natural weight and slowness that disabled him from keeping up with Berry's light talk; he envied it, because it seemed to make everybody like him, and Lemuel would willingly have been liked.
Miss Carver began to talk to him about the book, and then about Mr. Evans. She asked him if he went much to his rooms, and Lemuel said no, not at all, since the first time Mr. Evans had asked him up. He said, after a pause, that he did not know whether he wanted him to come.
"I should think he would," said Miss Carver. "It must be very gloomy for him, with his wife such an invalid. He seems naturally such a gay person."
"Yes, that's what I think," said Lemuel.
"I wonder," said the girl, "if it seems to you harder for a naturally cheerful person to bear things, than for one who has always been rather melancholy?"
"Yes, it does!" he answered with the pleasure and surprise young people have in discovering any community of feeling; they have thought themselves so utterly unlike each other. "I wonder why it should?"
"I don't know; perhaps it isn't so. But I always pity the cheerful person the most."
They recognised an amusing unreason in this, and laughed. Miss Swan across the room had caught the name.
"Are you talking of Mrs. Evans?"
Berry got his banjo down from the wall, where Miss Swan allowed him to keep it as bric-a-brac, and began to tune it.
"I don't believe it agrees with this banjoseph being an object of virtue," he said. "What shall it be, ladies? Something light and gay, adapted to disperse gloomy reflections?" He played a fandango. "How do you like that? It has a tinge of melancholy in it, and yet it's lively too, as a friend of mine used to say about the Dead March."
"Was his name Berry?" asked Miss Swan.
"Not Alonzo W., Jr.," returned Berry tranquilly, and he and Miss Swan began to joke together.
"I know a friend of Mr. Evans's," said Lemuel to Miss Carver. "Mr. Sewell. Have you ever heard him preach?"
"Oh yes, indeed. We go nearly every Sunday morning."
"I nearly always go in the evening now," said Lemuel. "Don't you like him?"
"Yes," said the girl. "There's something about him—I don't know what—that doesn't leave you feeling how bad you are, but makes you want to be better. He helps you so; and he's so clear. And he shows that he's had all the mean and silly thoughts that you have. I don't know—it's as if he were talking for each person alone."
"Yes, that is exactly the way I feel!" Lemuel was proud of the coincidence. He said, to commend himself further to Miss Carver, "I have just been round to see him."
"I should think you would value his acquaintance beyond anything," said the girl. "Is he just as earnest and simple as he is in the pulpit?"
"He's just the same, every way." Lemuel went a little further; "I knew him before I came to Boston. He boarded one summer where we lived." As he spoke he thought of the grey, old, unpainted house, and of his brother-in-law with his stocking-feet on the stove- hearth, and his mother's bloomers; he thought of his arrest, and his night in the police-station, his trial, and the Wayfarer's Lodge; and he wondered that he could think of such things and still look such a girl in the face. But he was not without that strange joy in their being unknown to her which reserved and latent natures feel in mere reticence, and which we all experience in some degree when we talk with people and think of our undiscovered lives.
They went on a long time, matching their opinions and feelings about many things, as young people do, and fancying that much of what they said was new with them. When he came away after ten o'clock, he thought of one of the things that Sewell had said about the society of refined and noble women: it was not so much what they said or did that helped; it was something in them that made men say and do their best, and help themselves to be refined and noble men, to make the most of themselves in their presence. He believed that this was what Miss Carver had done, and he thought how different it was with him when he came away from an evening with Statira. Again he experienced that compassion for her, in the midst of his pride and exultation; he asked himself what he could do to help her; he did not see how she could be changed.
Berry followed him downstairs, and wanted to talk the evening over.
"I don't see how I'm going to stand it much longer, Barker," he said. "I shall have to pop pretty soon or die, one of the two; and I'm afraid either one 'll kill me. Wasn't she lovely to-night? Honey in the comb, sugar in the gourd, I say! I wonder what it is about popping, anyway, that makes it so hard, Barker? It's simply a matter of business, if you come to boil it down. You offer a fellow so many cattle, and let him take 'em or leave 'em. But if the fellow happens to have on a long, slim, olive-green dress of some colour, and holds her head like a whole floral tribute on a stem, and you happen to be the cattle you're offering, you can't feel so independent about it, somehow. Well, what's the use? She's a daisy, if ever there was one. Ever notice what a peculiar blue her eyes are?"
"Blue?" said Lemuel. "They're brown."
"Look here, old man," said Berry compassionately, "do you think I've come down here to fool away my time talking about Miss Carver? We'll take some Saturday afternoon for that, when we haven't got anything else to do; but it's Miss Swan that has the floor at present. What were you two talking about over there, so long? I can't get along with Miss Carver worth a cent."
"I hardly know what we did talk about," said Lemuel dreamily.
"Well, I've got the same complaint, I couldn't tell you ten words that Madeline said—in thine absence let me call thee Madeline, sweet!—but I knew it was making an immortal spirit of me, right straight along, every time. The worst thing about an evening like this is, it don't seem to last any time at all. Why, when those girls began to put up their hands to hide their yawns, I felt like I was just starting in for a short call. I wish I could have had a good phonograph around. I'd put it on my sleepless pillow, and unwind its precious record all through the watches of the night." He imitated the thin phantasmal squeak of the instrument in repeating a number of Miss Swan's characteristic phrases. "Yes, sir, a pocket phonograph is the thing I'm after."